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Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2015 at 12:04 AM
After the jury returned a hung verdict, the Fullerton district attorney announced their intent to retry independent journalist livestreamers AJ Redkey and PM Beers for their presence at the January 18, 2014 protests of the police murder of Kelly Thomas. #FilmThePolice #FreeThePress #LivestreamOnTrial #opFullerton
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Following the January 2014 acquittal of Fullerton police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli for beating Kelly Thomas to death, outraged people took to the streets for a day of protest against police murder and violence against the unarmed citizenry.
Starting in the early morning of January 18, 2014 , signs with messages such as “If You’re Not Outraged, You’re Not Paying Attention” and “We Want Justice” began to appear outside the police station and Fullerton City Hall. One sign captioned “I Beat Kelly Thomas to Death – I’m The Victim” compared a photo of Kelly’s brutally crushed face and neck to the minor arm injury claimed by one of his assailants. At the morning assembly in Kelly’s honor, his sister Tina thanked the assembled protesters for keeping her brother's memory alive.
After hours of freedom of expression by several hundred concerned citizens, the Fullerton Police Department declared the assembly to be unlawful on the grounds that two people had been arrested for vandalism (including graffiti on the police headquarters) and a potentially “violent” scuffle had broken out between a protester and a KCBS camera operator. Armored tanks and battalions of riot cops entered the scene. Protesters were ordered to disperse from the intersection of Highland and Commonwealth in downtown Fullerton.
A crowd of over two hundred people thinned into smaller numbers. According to the OC Weekly, a group of about 75 people headed towards Kelly’s Corner, to the bus depot where police officers Manuel Ramos, Jay Cicinelli, and Joseph Wolfe beat Kelly Thomas to death on July 5, 2011. Hours later, as night fell, people who attempted to march back to the police station reported it was still blocked by a line of riot cops bearing batons, pepper spray, zip-tie handcuffs, and “less-lethal weapons” such as rubber bullet shotguns.
Livestreamer PM Beers interviewed a witness whose friend had just been snatched off the street by police. After following police who got out of a patrol car, she witnessed the arrest of another one of the people with whom she had been marching all day. When she tried to leave the scene herself, she ended up streaming her own arrest live across the Internet.
Police told the media that they arrested seven people Saturday night for failure to disperse, and that three people had been arrested on other charges earlier in the afternoon. As usual, all the evening arrests occurred after the mainstream media cameras had left the scene.
Livestreamer AJ Redkey also filmed the police at locations around downtown Fullerton throughout the day, but he was never arrested. The Fullerton Police Department waited until May 7, 2014, the day before a planned protest of unlawful arrests at Fullerton’s North Justice Center, to stalk and arrest him at another rally in Pasadena. A “snatch squad” of six Fullerton police officers—four undercover and two in uniform—traveled 75 miles out of their jurisdiction to arrest the independent journalist, an event which was filmed by another livestreamer from inLeague Press.
Yes, you read that right. Indepdendent journalist AJ Redkey was arrested for “failure to disperse” nearly four months after he left (or dispersed from) the area of downtown Fullerton.
Fullerton escalated their assault against freedom of the press by prosecuting Beers and Redkey in a jury trial that began on March 16, 2015. Charged with violating California penal code section 409 (failure to disperse from unlawful assembly), the defendants face a maximum of 6 months in jail if convicted of the misdemeanor charge. A jury of ten women and two men was empanelled for three days of trial arguments beginning March 17, 2015.
Deputy District Attorney Matt Mattis presented extensive evidence about three other events that day in Fullerton: the vandalism of the small business Slidebar, graffiti spray-painted on the police department, and the confrontation between a bandana-wearing protester and a member of the KCBS camera crew. The convicted perpetrators of those crimes were named throughout the trial. DA Mattis clearly stated defendants Redkey and Beers were never violent and never vandalized, but argued they were guilty of a crime for being present at a location that was declared to be an “unlawful assembly” and willfully remaining after the order was given.
The district attorney pointed out in closing arguments that he never mentioned the First Amendment because it was “not relevant” to this case. During the trial, defense attorney Derek Bercher described PM Beers as an “embedded” journalist providing an unfiltered view from ground level. Defense attorney John Raphling presented AJ Redkey’s style as “Comedy Central” instead of “Fox News or MSNBC” journalism.
According to the prosecution’s theory of the crime, out of 200 protesters, “197 were fine” but “there were three bad actors” who “ruined it for everybody,” therefore meeting the requirements for an unlawful assembly. The defense countered that if one person breaks a window after a baseball game, the entire assembly is not rendered unlawful.
Addressing the legal nature of the assembly, defense counsel observed, “willful lawbreakers don’t livestream” their activities. Also, “guess what folks, someone has to be the last to disperse.”
The district attorney narrowed the definition of terms in his closing argument: “It isn’t dispersing when you move at the end of a baton,” he said, in reference to defendant Redkey.
Defense attorney Bercher declared, “There is no playbook for protesting,” after asking jury to recall that the police witnesses had discussed their own rules of engagement. “Protesters have to rely on the behavior of the police” who were playing a “cat and mouse game” with the crowd on the streets of Fullerton that day.
Attorney Ralphing reminded the jury how his client, Mr. Redkey, asked during one part of the video evidence if he was standing far enough away, and received a “you’re good” in response from one riot cop. The police “gave a signal they would be patient” with their multiple warnings, and they “can’t come in court and change the rules and say immediately means a certain amount of time.”
Both defense attorneys told the jury the assembly of Saturday, January 18, 2014 in Fullerton was not unlawful in nature; therefore no crime was committed because penal code 409 does not apply.
After deliberating for part of the afternoon of Thursday, March 19th and the morning of Monday, March 23rd, the jury reported that they were unable to reach a verdict. The jury never reached the point of deliberating the guilt of either defendant; they deadlocked 11-1 deciding whether the assembly was unlawful or not.
After a recess for lunch, the DA told the court, "The people of the state of California intend to retry the case."
Why is the City of Fullerton allocating so many resources to harass people for the exercise of their constitutionally-guaranteed First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and press? Both PM Beers and AJ Redkey have spoken out against police brutality and the criminalization of the homeless during the public commentary period of Fullerton City Council meetings. Both have also devoted hundreds of hours to filming the police and encourage others to pick up their cameras and “be the media,” as well.
"I feel like I have a responsibility when police are outside of their cars to film them," Beers told the OC Weekly after her arrest. "If I had left, the situation would not have been as safe."
As AJ Redkey explained on The Anti-Media Radio, “The biggest threat to them is the fact that there is no editor. There is nobody manipulating the story so one side looks better than the other.” He continued, “Not only do we have no editors, but tomorrow there will be another 25 livestreamers filming the inadequacies of police departments, checking them, keeping them real. If I was a machine that liked to operate behind closed doors, I would love for it to continue working like it is.”
“Everybody needs to livestream,” says PM Beers.
Citizen media volunteers like Redkey and Beers provide critical transparency during riskiest time of any protest—when police set up skirmish lines.
The public official prosecuting this case called the First Amendment “not relevant.” The Bill of Rights prohibits the making of any law abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
Aware observers of the court-industrial complex note penal code 409 seems only ever to be used against freedom of assembly, as well as free speech and free press activity—-how is this law constitutional in the first place?!?
Law enforcement and the city government of Fullerton comprise a vast continuing criminal enterprise terrorizing independent thinkers. Taxpayer dollars were used to send multiple armored tanks and battalions of police in riot gear to arrest and jail people engaged in freedom of expression on January 18, 2014. Even more resources were devoted to kidnapping one more journalist nearly four months after the event. Since then, the district attorney’s office has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to take these two independent journalists to trial, only to lose, and has now declared intent to tie up the court system further with these frivolous charges. By approving the budget for these police activities, the city council is making the taxpayers at large a part of their conspiracy to criminalize people for legal activities such as peaceful assembly and filming the police.
A pre-trial conference is set for April 17 at the North Justice Center (Fullerton, CA) in the re-filed cases of People v. Beers and People v. Redkey. Everyone is encouraged to call the Orange County DA at (714) 773-4480 to let them know how you feel about spending more tax dollars to retry a misdemeanor case resulting from peaceful, legal journalistic expression.
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